On March 8, 2013

As we frequently discuss in this Colorado Estate Planning Law Blog, it is important not only to craft a clear and deliberate estate plan, but also to keep these plans up-to-date. Doing so helps ensure that one’s final wishes will be followed with little room for dispute. However, in some cases, even when people create sound estate plans, disagreements and challenges still arise, leading to probate battles.

Such is the case with the multimiliion-dollar estate of James Brown. The Godfather of Soul died in 2006, but today a battle over his estate still rages on. It has made it all the way to a state supreme court, which ruled last week that a proposed estate settlement could not be accepted because it was too far from the wishes that the singer expressed in his estate plan.

When Brown died, he left behind a detailed will and a trust. These documents dictated that he wanted to leave his personal effects to his six adult children, as well as leave $2 million in a trust for the education of his grandchildren. He requested that the rest of his assets would be directed to charity–specifically to pay for education expenses for children and young adults in South Carolina and Georgia.

Although his wishes were expressed clearly, his heirs filed a lawsuit accusing Brown’s estate planning attorney and others of improperly influencing his decisions. Additionally, a woman claiming to have married Brown after he created the estate plan sued for one-third of his estate; she also said that her son, who was born to her and Brown after the estate plan was created, should receive a share.

In light of the disputes, the state’s attorney general intervened and proposed a settlement, giving one quarter of Brown’s assets to the woman claiming to be his wife, another 25 percent to Brown’s six children and the child of the aforementioned woman, and the remaining 50 percent to charity. Although a probate judge approved the settlement, the state’s supreme court shot it down last week saying that the proposed division of assets ignored Brown’s wishes that were so clearly expressed.

This saga should remind Colorado residents that it is necessary to update one’s will and other documents after life events–such as marriages or the birth of children. It is also imperative to work with a reputable and experienced estate planning attorney to draft and revise these plans.

Source: Associated Press, “SC court nixes James Brown estate settlement,” Meg Kinnard, Feb. 27, 2013

Source: Forbes, “Court Scolds SC Attorney General For Hijacking James Brown Estate,” Danielle and Andy Maroyas, Feb. 28, 2013

Categories: Probate Litigation

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